KIRBY: KING OF COMICS HC
Written by Mark Evanier Art by Jack Kirby (duh) Published by Abrams Books Reviewed by Stones ThrowOne of the funniest mistakes I’ve seen in a mainstream media article about comics was around the time of the first X-MEN movie, where the creation of Marvel’s main characters was credited to a mysterious individual called “Jack Lee”. Boy, if only he’d have got together with Stan Kirby then we’d really have seen something, I bet.
There hasn’t been anything like those kind of laughs in all the many reviews I’ve seen of this book, and that’s all down to the clear, impartial and character-filled way Mark Evanier records Kirby’s life story in KING OF COMICS. No, it’s not the definitive biography. You get seven chapters tracing Kirby’s career from its start at Max Fleischer’s animation studios, his service on the beaches of France during WWII (including sketches and letters sent to his wife Roz) through to the creation of the Marvel icons during the 1960s, to his later years and final work in the ‘90s, that give the reader more of an overview, with brief asides or quotes from Kirby or Lee or Simon, on the man. But what it doesn’t have in detail is more than accounted for by the focus on the man’s artwork. Really, this is the only way to do a Kirby book—rather than tell you about what he did, Evanier shows it to you in full, oversized glory.
Sorry to be controversial and all, but man, that Jack Kirby could draw. We tend to get inured to the pure power of Kirby’s art through its ubiquity in today’s comic book world, but seeing images like the still-classic cover to AVENGERS #4 or the first appearance of Thor in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY in original size and color is a revelation.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Included in the section on Kirby’s early years is a never before published 10-page autobiographical tale called “Street Code” that is more like something you’d expect from Will Eisner than what’s typically thought of as a Jack Kirby comic. What’s particularly great abut it is that he draws a “block fight” between local kids with the same raw, reckless power of Orion throwing down with Darkseid, while a two page spread of his 1920s New York tenement is as epic as any cosmic vista from FANTASTIC FOUR or THE MIGHTY THOR. “Street Code” is in no way a linear tale, more of a snapshot of a typical few minutes of Kirby’s childhood, but the emotion it builds with only a few almost impressionistic scenes and minimalistic narration is remarkable. Check out this quote from the last page: “But, I was hurting – hurting for Georgie and me -- and the lousy things we had to do for the street code.” I have to say “Street Code” is already one of my very favorite Kirby comics I’ve read.
I don’t want to give Evanier’s text short shrift though. Most of us know the basic story of Kirby’s work at Marvel in the ‘60s and following move to DC to bring us the New Gods and more, but KING OF COMICS really opened my eyes to the volume and influence of work that he (often with editor/writer/inking partner Joe Simon) created for the comic industry from the early ‘40s through the 1950s. Like, I knew he used the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion in his FOURTH WORLD comics in the ‘70s, but did you know that those characters were actually created by Kirby and Simon in the Golden Age? The Sandman, Blue Beetle, even a large proportion of the first issue of CAPTAIN MARVEL—these guys were all over.
I was a bit worried about how Evanier might portray the still-divisive Lee/Kirby partnership, but any personal feeling or emotional loyalty is cast aside in favor of some good old-fashioned journalistic impartiality. The only bit that struck me as slightly odd is the author’s rationalization of why Kirby might have been taken off the Spider-Man strip in favor of Steve Ditko. It makes a little more sense to me that Stan wanted a more realistic tone for the character over Kirby’s Captain Marvel-like story of a teen finding a magic ring than the explanation Evanier comes up with.
Other tidbits of interest: the story behind the creation of THE X-MEN and DAREDEVIL (publisher Martin Goodman wanted another team like the FF and another solo hero like Spidey, prompting Kirby to comment “he’s gone from ripping off other people’s comics to ripping off his own”); Kirby’s planned origin of the Silver Surfer that had to be scrapped when Stan gave a solo book to John Buscema. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for Kirby’s incredible, psychedelic proposals for a redesign of Thor from 1968. Other than brief flashes of inspiration from the likes of Walt Simonson, Thor has floundered as one of Marvel’s more marginal A-listers since Kirby left the book, with writers and artists eternally aping what was done by Stan and Jack in the ‘60s. But there’s Kirby putting forward his ideas for an entirely new version of the character. In fact, it looks a fair bit like Oliver Coipel’s current take on Thor.
In a summer where the box office is dominated by Kirby-indebted works like IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and HELLBOY, and Marvel and DC are pushing SECRET INVASION (Skrulls) and FINAL CRISIS (New Gods), I can’t think of a better read than KIRBY: KING OF COMICS. Necessary for any fan of the King.
UNCANNY X-MEN #500
Writers: Ed Brubaker & Matt Faction Artists: Terry Dodson & Greg Land Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheEvery cc of tepid emotion that courses through my bloodstream about this landmark yet understated issue is counter-balanced by equal volumes of respect for the choices that made it enjoyable without pandering to the event nature of the almighty number five hundred. This issue did not blow my mind and I’m actually grateful for it, in part.
I’m sure most of us were expecting this issue to give us epic fanboy boners with kitschy gimmicks, red headed resurrections, time confounding trips to days of future past, or some other resuscitated Claremont plot device. That would have been easy and expected, so kudos need to go to this team for not falling into such traps. While the past is not completely abandoned, Brubaker and Fraction have clearly set the X-Men on the path towards a “brand new day” (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Ultimately, though, I think it’s going to take a few more issues to find mutant nirvana. The over arching concepts are good and solid; it was just a rough ride getting to them.
To put everything in context I traversed my long boxes to read the very first few issues of X-MEN crafted by Mister Stan Lee. Surely, issue five hundred could in no way compare to not only the bedrock of the mutant universe, but some will argue the turning point in comic story-telling. After closing the last yellowed gently frayed page of issue five, I realized that we have come so far and not quite far at all. Quite honestly, as introductory books go, issue five hundred makes issue one look like a caveman trying to play chess with Bobby Fisher. All of the introductory elements are in place, but good God the stark difference in story-telling and artistry between then and now humanizes the team more than any silver-age creative team could have imagined.
Like the first few issues back in the 1960’s, we get acclimated to who the X-Men are and what they stand for. Instead of the residence on Graymalkin Lane we are now taken on a tour of the mutant reserve funded by Warren Worthington on the outskirts of San Francisco. While heavy in exposition and feeling like an episode of Robin Leech’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Ostracized”, I breezed through these pages and was thankful for them since it filled in a lot of holes left open by the last issue of ASTONISHING. The only portion of this lead-in that bothered me was the mayor of San Francisco. Being an uptight cynical bastard raised in New Jersey, I just don’t get the California laid-back vibe. There is no way a flibbertigibbet like this would ever hold a public office in the North East corridor. Maybe it’s a left coast thing, but I’m just not buying this woman as an elected official. I only hope she fades into the background in future issues.
Also the X-credo has irrevocably changed. Instead of training future super heroes, the new X-mandate is to have this compound serve as a mutant sanctuary where freaks can frolic and get their freak on without scrutiny or fear. A nice concept, but certainly not one wrought with peril. When I was reading these pages I could only hope that despite best intentions, racism will rear its ugly head once more and make this area ground zero for a little bit of the ultra-violence. Sure enough, the last page of the book delivered on this hope. Ahhh, thank you, racism.
The most action oriented part of the book was the reintroduction of Magneto and the Sentinels. A controversial art exhibit honoring the atrocities of humanity’s past has the decommissioned behemoth metal menaces as its centerpiece. Let’s just say they don’t stay decommissioned for very long. The team dynamics of the X-men were right on in this section even if I question Magneto’s character choices (i.e. this ain’t Magneto).
I love Land and Dodson’s past solo artistic efforts, and each one tackles their respective pages in this issue quite well with their own unique style. Unfortunately their styles are so divergent that swapping off pages at a breakneck pace makes the read more jarring than riding shotgun next to Pa Ingalls. It’s sort of like a peanut butter and pubic hair sandwich. Both ingredients serve their purposes in this world, especially in these trying economic times, but not all things in this world are meant to be brought together. Were this an anthology or if the issue was parsed out into divergent stories totally separate from the main event I would be more forgiving of this choice; as one continuous issue, though, it’s just too damn choppy.
For every part I loved about this story there was always a flaw or a fumble that would pull me out of the moment. It was not a spectacular start, but after the mass confusion of the past few years, any start, even a weak one, makes me overjoyous. Now, if I can just figure out how this fits in with the rest of the stories within the X-verse, because right now things are being bound together by Elmer’s Glue and chewed bubble gum. Someone in editorial at Marvel needs to make some fast decisions. For those of us buying all things X, the amount of continuity inconsistencies between books are ranking higher than the national debt.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. Optimous is looking for artistry help, critical feedback and a little industry insight to get his original book AVERAGE JOE up, up and on the shelves. What if the entire world had super powers? Find out in the blog section of Optimous’ MySpace page to see some preview pages and leave comments.
AMBUSH BUG: YEAR NONE #1
Penciled & Plotted: Keith Giffen Dialog: Robert Loren Fleming Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugPicking an AICN Code Name is something akin to choosing a tattoo. As long as you don't act like a douche and get banned, it's something you'll be saddled with for a long, long time. Back in 1999 (god, has it been that long?), when I first discovered AICN and AICN Comics was just a glimmer in the @$$Holes' eyes, I took a while to think about what user name to choose. After a while I had it. Ambush Bug. The name of one of my favorite comic book creations, and one of the most important comic books ever to hit the stands. Sure some people will swear up and down that the release of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS or THE WATCHMEN was the turning point when comics became relevant and something more than mere funny books, but for me, the AMBUSH BUG miniseries (especially the first two) were the ones that made me think that comics could be much more than what we thought they could be.
Just as WATCHMEN and DKR made people take comics seriously, AMBUSH BUG was the opposite and long before Shatner gave his famous "Get a life!" SNL speech, it made fun of the fans as well as the creators for taking comics way too seriously. Keith Giffen's sometimes kooky, sometimes apathetic, sometimes depressed character held up a mirror to the comics industry, making fun of annoying trends and revealing insightful realities that many comic book fans and creators were unable to see (or maybe unwilling to see is more like it). Not only did the Bug make fun of age old comic book clichés like inner monologues, clunky exposition, and over the top acting, Giffen's Bug wasn't afraid to poke at current trends like Liefeld's art while he was drawing X-FORCE, long before it was hip to do so and passé to do so now. If it was on the printed page during or before Ambush Bug was created, it was fair game to dissect, ridicule, and judge.
The Bug's been gone from comics for a while (I don't count his tiny cameos in 52 and extended cameos in the last LOBO miniseries because the Bug showed up mainly as comic fodder in those, much like he did in his first appearances in ACTION COMICS and DC COMICS PRESENTS). The insightful and fourth wall breaking character hasn't had a chance to shine since I believe his NOTHING SPECIAL Special. A lot has happened in comics since then and this YEAR NONE #1 wastes no time letting the ridicule flow from the very first page.
The issue starts somewhere right before this whole INFINITE/IDENTITY/FINAL CRISIS stuff began, with Kirby's stone Source Wall talking to the reader and wondering what comic book he's in, then complaining about everything from a dispute with Darkseid to Michael Jackson's glitter glove and Big Barda's moustache. Once that tiny preview of events to come is over, we are "POP!"-ed to Chicago where Johnny DC (one of AB's supporting cast members and DC's own Continuity Cop) is murdered. Soon the Bug is on the case to find the murderer. A lot of familiar faces show up along the way: Cheeks, Argh!lyle, and the aforementioned Johnny DC, plus obscurities like Yankee Poodle, Ace the Bathound, Egg Fu, ‘Mazing Man and Sugar from Sugar and Spice. The appearance of these characters will be sure to put smiles on longtime DC readers’ faces, but doesn't really leave newbs scratching their heads because the comedy occurs within the panel itself, void of any need for real reference. It just enriches the scenes when you know who these characters are. After a battle with a 60's hipster, the Bug embarks on the next leg of his adventure leading into next issue's run-in with Blue Beetle.
This is a book for fans of AMBUSH BUG and longtime readers of comics. That seems to be the intended audience here with all of the winks and nods to characters past and the apathetic views towards today's trends. If you're a new comic reader or one who just began reading comics in the last ten years or so, some of the stuff in this book may piss you off. I understand why there will be those who will shout "THAT SUXORS!" in the Talkbacks. Challenging what one believes in is a tough thing to go through and it's something not unlike death. As with Kubler-Ross' Five Stages of Death, new readers may suffer from denial, then anger, then bargaining, then depression, but hopefully acceptance will soon set in after reading this comic. Comics can be fun. Comics are not sacred tomes that cannot be made fun of. We as readers and especially the makers of comics do take ourselves waaaay too seriously and should be able to make fun of ourselves from time to time. And that's what AMBUSH BUG: YEAR NONE #1 does so well.
I laughed out loud at least once per page as I read this book. Giffen and Fleming's writing is sharp and pointing their fingers directly towards the current comic fans and makers. From the pile-up of dead bodies of women in the DCU to the commentary about the thought balloon vs. caption box debate, every joke, jab, and jibe hits the bullseye. Giffen's art is a bit more restrained than I remember, and less boxy. I prefer his earlier work, but in this issue he proves that he still has it.
To a lesser extent, I've been trying my damndest to do the name Ambush Bug proud in these seven-odd years I've been reviewing comics here at AICN. I try to look at the trends objectively and insightfully. I try to point out when fans and creators are taking themselves too seriously. And I never balk at making fun of myself for falling into these trappings as well. AMBUSH BUG: YEAR NONE #1 is one of those books that makes me proud that I chose my moniker de plume. I know saying a comedy comic is an important read may be seen as somewhat over an overstatement, but in this time of gloom and seriousness, the time couldn't be more perfect for the Bug to comment on the current state of affairs in comics. This should be required reading for fans and creators alike. It's fun stuff and I'm glad that there will be more issues to come in the coming months. Now more than ever we need Giffen and his Bug to break the fourth wall and shove in our faces that which we are unwilling to accept.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Look for his first published work in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW!) at Muscles & Fights.com. Check out a five page preview on his ComicSpace page. Bug was recently interviewed here and here at Cream City about indie comics, his own artistic process, the comics industry, and other shades of bullsquat. Look for Bug’s follow-up this Fall in MUSCLES & FRIGHTS!
Writers: Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka Artists: Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoThe current Daredevil story could feel like a tired retread of a story told many many times before. But to the credit of the team on this book, it doesn’t even though I have seen these story concepts a million times before. Matt Murdock has to save a man on death row. The guy looks guilty as sin, he wants to be executed. And yet…he’s innocent. With the clock ticking, it’s up to Daredevil to discover the truth of what is going on. Complicated setup yet, actually, been down this road before. Maybe it’s just that an innocent man willingly walking to his death for hidden reasons is always going to be compelling.
This issue starts out with another classic pulp trope: a hero - in this case Dakota North - being confronted by a parent who is knee deep in corruption and conspiracy who tells them they need to back off of their investigation for their own good. I think Chris Carter alone has done this scene at least 27 times. When I saw it being used again in this issue I actually got nervous. First thing even close to a bad step I’ve seen in DAREDEVIL in awhile. I just get uncomfortable reading a scene so familiar that I know what the characters will say before they say it.
Despite this iffy start though, dang if I wasn’t back on board by the end. Again, innocent man’s life in the balance? Can’t get better stakes than that. But more than that, this is DAREDEVIL. This isn’t “The X-Files”. On “The X-Files”, someone might tell Mulder or Scully to watch their step but, in the end, you knew they’d be okay. A beloved recurring character might get knocked off but our heroes were safe. That isn’t the case with DD. This is a book that has no compunction about killing important characters (even if sometimes only temporarily). So in this issue when things get serious, we actually believe for a fact they could be deadly serious. Compliments to Lark and Gaudiano’s art for that too. The art sells this book’s darkest chills really well. The fact that the, uh, money shot isn’t designed to be the best angle to capture the full nasty effect of what is happening but instead seems framed more like we are happening to see it from where we happened to be standing when things just… happened. And the final panel on that same page, a close up on a certain character…man, that panel gives me the chills. It sells the reality of the story frighteningly well.
Jinxo is Thom Holbrook, lifelong comic book reader, and the evil genius behind poobala.com. He may appear cute and cuddly but if encountered avoid eye contact and DO NOT attempt to feed.
DAN DARE #7
Writer: Garth Ennis Art: Gary Erskine Publisher: Virgin Comics Reviewer: Humphrey LeeSome how, some way, despite being over fifty years old I managed to avoid knowing that the character of Dan Dare even existed. It's an even further miracle that I managed to catch this in the back of the PREVIEWS in Virgin's section, where things can tend to get lost in the midst of all the "Such and Such Hollywood Name Presents" titles. But there it was, smack dab with Garth Ennis' name on it, and a couple "clickity-klacks" of the keyboard on ye olde Wiki and I discovered that basically this book is a giant Space Age war tale, and if there's anything I enjoy in my comics, it's Garth Ennis doing a war tale. The fact that it's a space story, something I've never seen Ennis do before, was an added bonus. Finally, throw in the highly under-rated Gary Erskine's pencils, and you've got me buying a Virgin title - a scarce occurrence indeed.
And BTW, this series was fucking awesome!! Now let's get to the "hows and why-fors"...
Dan Dare is that consummate hero that most comics wish they could have. Brave as any man could ever been given the odds he faces, intelligent, fierce, and more loyal to his cause and country than even the most dedicated of Patriots. This is one of the most enthralling leads I've seen in an action epic since the last time I caught “Gladiator” on late-night Showtime replay. Keeping in the theme of the old stories, from what I understand, this seven issue mini-series has once again put Dare and the British (Space) Navy in conflict with the alien race known as the Treens, and their super-intelligent leader The Mekon in a future where at any point that race threatens to overrun humanity. One of those "eternal struggle" type deals, and in this case it more than lives up to the billing.
Again, I don't know anything about the past DAN DARE comics and what have you, but if they were anywhere near as enthralling as Ennis' take on this saga then I definitely know what I'm going to be turning into my next Convention hunt. Between the essence of Dare's character himself, an easy to latch onto supporting cast, some fantastic "How are they going to get out of this one?" scenarios and their follow-thru's, and just the proper emotional hits of pride, determination, and the indomitable human spirit - these seven issues were really some of the most fun and engaging comics I've read this year.
The way Ennis makes you buy into this setting, and hooks you into the characters with minimal effort, is really just a testament to how good he does these kinds of stories, even if the sci-fi nature of it isn't something you'd normally see from him. And Gary Erskine has always been one of those artists I thought had great skill in capturing the pure essence of humanity in his pencils, which obviously comes from that 2000AD upbringing, and it's the perfect fit here. There's some absolutely chilling shots throughout this series, and particularly in this finale, that perfectly depict the horror and sacrifice of war. The next time Ennis does one of his little war projects down the road, I hope Mr. Erskine is in tow because together they've got this down pat. If this is the kind of stories we can expect to see come out of a DAN DARE revival then I'm all for it. I just hope Virgin can keep this quality a creative team on it, in which case they'll definitely be on to something truly worth pushing a comics line with.
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, and a Blogger Account where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
Writer: Christos N. Gage Artist: Fernando Blanco Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoThe good news here is that I think the new team taking over THUNDERBOLTS seem capable and up to the task. Blanco’s art is solid. The action sequences are solid, he knows how to set up a shot or a page to bring out the drama he wants. There does seem to be a little to much dramatic squinting going on but, hey, that mountain base is kind of dark. They should get better lights in there. You don’t need that group all pissed off with tension headaches for God’s sake. On the writing side, there are good signs. Gage isn’t trying to throw everything out and start from scratch. He’s clearly picking up the story where it was left and trying to move forward with many of the plots already in play. He seems to have a good take on the characters as well.
Coming in after Ellis’ run, these guys do have big shoes to fill. Not an enviable task. The problem is, while I can see signs in the new team’s first issue that the Thunderbolts are in good hands…that’s all I can see. Signs. Because overall, sadly, this first issue is a miss for me. But I’m hoping this is just one small stumble coming out of the gate.
The problem for me was this issue tried to wedge way too many story elements in in a way that didn’t flow smoothly. It seems like they had three things they wanted to accomplish in this issue: they wanted to reestablish the characters and the situation of the comic…I guess for new readers, they wanted to put a little forward motion on some of the running plots and they also had to work the Secret Invasion plot into the book. But instead of interweaving all these tasks throughout the whole book, they take them one at a time, which for me gave the book a sort of start and stop feel. It felt almost like three smaller issues instead of one cohesive one.
First we have a throwaway battle serving as window dressing to disguise Gage’s reestablishing and summing up what has been going on in the book. And while that might be helpful for new readers, for me as a long term reader it felt like a waste of my time. And it screamed out that there was a new writer on the book rather than there being a seamless transition. That done, we reset and move onto moving forward plot threads. A major new character is added, a character who should reek of mystery and trouble. As should her arrival. But there is only a perfunctory amount of mystery. We could have seen her walking up to the mountain, wondering for much of the walk who she was. We could be given a glimpse of some troubling smirk on her face nobody else sees. We could have been given SOMETHING more. But we are only allotted X pages for that plot so I guess we have to keep it quick. Because we do need to move to the third part of the book with the SECRET INVASION stuff where Captain Marvel attacks Thunderbolt Mountain. And that part in and of itself, like the other parts of the book, works okay. But it feels like its own separate thing.
This issue isn’t horrible--it just isn’t a home run. Now that the stage is set I think things should likely run more smoothly. I have some faith in the new crew. They just didn’t nail this one.
As a PS, let me sum up why Captain Marvel is attacking the Thunderbolts. For those trying to follow along, Captain Marvel is actually a Skrull brainwashed into thinking he was Captain Marvel. Only he discovered the truth of his identity, embraced his Captain Marvel identity and turned his back on the Skrulls. Only, shortly after that, he became disgusted that the Thunderbolts were villains pretending to be heroes and signed back on with the Skrulls as long as he was allowed to target the Thunderbolts. So we have villains playing heroes being attacked by…a villain who has become a hero but who is…acting as a villain. Oh man, now I have a headache.
HOW TO BE BULLETPROOF Webcomic
By Kirt E. Burdick First page can be found here. Reviewer: Ambush BugOne of the coolest things about online comics (other than the fact that they are frikkin’ free—something I have to keep reminding you all), is that the variety of the types of comics in this particular medium is huge. I think it’s due to the fact that these guys go out there, make their own comics, and publish it themselves online. There’s no big corporation telling them what to do or what style to use or what trends to follow. If a webcomic creator has a story idea, they just do it. They don’t check with someone first. And there’s something to admire in that.
HOW TO BE BULLETPROOF is an especially ballsy little comic. It stars a crusty sea dog (Sailor Mick) and an actual dog (Joe “Bulletproof” Blue) possessed by the spirit of a heroin addicted mob enforcer. The story is set in 1999, but the tone of the story seems to be around 1950 with tree lined yards, fedora wearing thugs, and LEAVE IT TO BEAVER-style characters throughout.
HOW TO BE BULLETPROOF is a bizarre little tale of revenge and hazy memories. Sailor Mick is getting on in years and he’s not the crook he used to be. His memory is becoming pretty hazy to the point where he doesn’t remember from one day to the next whether or not he’s been paid for jobs. This isn’t good when Mick thinks the crooks he works with ripped him off (they could’ve, but then again Mick may have just forgotten he was paid). Doesn’t matter because he kills them anyway and seeks the mob boss, Madame Ambrosia, for payment. Joe “Bulletproof” Blue is in search of Ambrosia as well for revenge. Seems she had him killed, but his hatred for her is so strong that his spirit inhabited the nearest and easiest body he could find: a giant CUJO dog. Now both Sailor Mick and his dog are in search for revenge.
Fans of THE GOON will get a kick out of this story with its 50’s tough guy sensibilities schmelded with the occult. The artwork is pretty damn cool. At times it reminded me of Mike Judge’s artwork from KING OF THE HILL, but that’s no jibe at the artwork. The shaky lines give the story a unique quality that one doesn’t often see in comics. It’s a quick read (just two issues have been released so far), so it’ll be quick for you to catch up on. Looks like new pages drop every Thursday. HOW TO BE BULLETPROOF is one of those original concepts that push the medium of comics while lauding different genres of the past. It’s funny at times and thrilling to see these two interesting characters--one guided by rage, the other’s judgment clouded by age--as they cut a path of revenge. Check out HOW TO BE BULLETPROOF if you’re interested in something different than what you normally see on the shelves.
GHOST TALKER’S DAYDREAM VOL 1
Story by Okuse Saki Art by Meguro Sankichi Released by Dark Horse Manga Reviewer: Scott GreenWho doesn't love a wacky spiritual medium? When I got my current car, one of the AM radio presets was programmed to call up a Christian station. I've never been much of a practitioner of religion, but I've always been interested in hearing about it. I picked up plenty of new insights before my listenership came to a halt when I lost my radio presets and didn't bother re-adding the Christian station. One of the frequently reinforced tidbits was that there are plenty of people who are particularly fascinated by the biblical episode in which King Saul visited the Witch of Endor so that she'd call up the ghost of Samuel. Part of the fascination seemed to be because the episode was an opportunity to ask "if X happened, why can't Y" questions, and part seemed to be because, from the bible to the talk with Tiresias in the Odyssey to TV psychics and Jennifer Love Hewitt, there is always something impressively theatrical about attempts to talk to the dead.
In that "wow!, look at that weird person trying to talk to the dead" line, GHOST TALKER’S DAYDREAM adds Saiki Misaki, a young albinistic woman who'd rather be identified by her primary profession: dominatrix, than her secondary one: ghost talker. Like many titles that set up some physical attribute from which to launch jokes...laugh at the character getting enraged when someone notes her small chest...laugh at the character who flares up because someone notes his shortness...GHOST TALKER’S DAYDREAM erects a gag tee-ball stand to bat jokes off of whenever it's time for a swing at comedy. In this case, Saiki is terribly self conscious of her lack of pubic hair. She goes commando...she's knocked over...she flushes with embarrassment, then rage as the male spectators gawk. The manga features a plenty of attempts at humor utilizing this set-up. At least it's original in particulars if not principle.
Saiki is prompted to take work as a ghost trouble shooter at the behest of Kadotake Souichiro, a spooked, officious nebbish, who can nevertheless take care of the human dimension of problems, thanks to a solid background in mixed martial arts training. While Saiki unwinds a demon thread from under her S&M gear and guides the deceased, Kadotake takes care of human troublemakers with a bit of single leg takedown, full mount, ground and pound action.
Piecemeal, GHOST TALKER’S DAYDREAM illustrates the specific qualities of this premise well. Saiki might read more like a manufactured character than a actual person, and the concept might be muted by cultural differences. But, when she's gesturing at the yakuza across the table from her or smack talking the guy that she's about to club with a metal pipe, the mannerisms in her specific brand of impatience and irreverence do make her endearing.
In addition to a solid handling of these character moments, Meguro Sanikichi proves to be an impressively harsh illustrator of physical violence. During the fights, there is a combined impression of concussive force and that the people slamming into each other are rather familiar with the hurting business. Both in action sequences and in crime sequences, the depiction of violence manages to look dangerous.
Going back to Osamu Tezuka, one of the key assets of the manga tradition has been its willingness to modulate tone. Rather than staking down one mindset, stories can briskly shift weight from light hearted to heart felt. Look at Astro Boy's origin story.... he's sold to a robot circus, a concept that is as whimsically goofy as it sounds. Yet, after reveling in the oddity, Tezuka pulls back the curtain to demonstrate the sorrow of the robots forced to perform. If done well, these modulations can capture surprises and dynamic twists of experience. If done poorly, the manga can undercut itself or appear soulless.
One moment GHOST TALKER’S DAYDREAM is playing in unrestrained quirkiness and Kouta Hirano style cartoon camp. The next, it's cry for humanity material, with infanticide and intense depictions of rape. By unpredictably, rapidly oscillating between scenes intended to raise a smirk and scenes intended to twist your guts in a knot, the experience is flattened. Nothing has the chance to break the threshold where what is on the page is surprising or real enough to provoke a reaction.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for close to seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.